Southampton FC Women battled hard, but were unable to take all three points from Bridgwater United, who equalised late to earn a 1-1 draw at Snows Stadium.
Despite creating chances, Southampton failed to capitalise on them in the first half, but deservedly went ahead through Ella Pusey’s placed finish in the second.
Moments from victory, Jenna Markham levelled for the visitors, her low finish sneaking into Kayla Rendell’s bottom-right corner, ensuring Bridgwater left with a share of the spoils.
A crucial league clash between third and fifth, it was no real surprise to anybody that the game started evenly, with both sides looking to assert early dominance.
The first opportunity of the afternoon would fall the way of Saints on 10 minutes, Ella Morris whipping in a dangerous, in-swinging cross from the left flank which caught Bridgwater’s defensive line off guard, but Ciara Watling couldn’t get enough contact on the ball to convert the chance.
Seven minutes later Morris was at it again, receiving from Laura Raffety before driving down the line and whipping in a vicious ball. This time Bridgwater cleared, but only into the path of initial catalyst Raffety, who brought the ball down well but couldn’t direct her half-volley goalwards from outside the box.
Showcasing more and more attacking threat as the minutes ticked by, Saints searched for an opener once more in the 25th minute, the chance once again arising from the right foot of Morris.
Her arching free-kick found Rosie Parnell at the far post, who headed across goal and into the path of Rafferty, the defender’s unorthodox effort from point-blank range turned expertly onto the crossbar by Beth Howard.
Finding confidence in the fact that the scoreline remained level, Bridgwater began to keep better possession of the ball in the minutes between 25 and 45, managing to survive another late Morris free-kick to go into half time level.
Emerging reenergised and refocused, Southampton started with intent, Sophia Pharoah going close with a half-volley, before Watling’s placed effort from range was touched wide by the diving Howard.
It may have taken almost an hour, but, in the 59th minute, Saints’ admirable perseverance paid off, Pusey receiving Phoebe Williams’s threaded through ball, before bearing down on goal and steering her low effort clinically into the bottom left corner. A deserved lead.
Eager to fight back, Bridgwater mounted their first meaningful attack of the afternoon in the 65th minute, Markham turning inside the area and firing her shot goalwards, but not past a brave Parnell, who stood strong to block the attempt.
As their search for an equaliser continued, Bridgwater, who were enjoying a brief attacking spell, looked to set off attacker Chloe Gilroy, who used her considerable pace to break beyond the Saints backline, leaving Parnell with no choice but to bring her down and suffer a booking.
Moments away from a crucial three points, Southampton looked to defend one last Bridgwater attack down the left flank, a low ball into the penalty area finding a tightly marked Markham, who showed skill to turn in a tight area and direct her low effort beyond the right hand of Rendell and into her bottom-right corner on 89 minutes.
Showing courage to pick themselves up and battle on, Saints quickly began to launch attacks down the other end in search of a last-gasp winner, substitute Katie Rood throwing herself at a loose ball just in front of Howard’s goal, which the keeper managed to smother away.
A tough pill to swallow, especially given their strong performance, but another point towards Southampton’s promotion push nonetheless.